Bursa, May 27, 2008
Over breakfast, shortly before we are to leave Bursa, my father mentions that his father's birthplace lies not far from the hotel. Now he tells us. Local foks offer various estimations of the distance -- a few blocks away, a 35 minute drive -- so we decide we can't go, but it's nice to know we have a lead in case I come back here.
With an hour to spare, I walk through the covered market. It seems stories saturate every stone, every shop as narrow as two broom handles, every glance and voice of vendors and shoppers, chidren and beggars. I come to the Great Mosque, leave my shoes at the entrance. Scaffolding blocks some of the colums and decorations, and temporary walls hide construction equipment, but the solemnity and cool air still feel soothing. A few men and women pray in different sections; a Japanese tour group listens to their guide.
Outside, I request a shoe shine from a dark-skinned man who is missing a tooth. He speaks like a drum roll. After asking him to slow down and clarify certain words I almost understood, I give up and just nod, repeating the two or three Turkish affirmations I know: yes, true, of course, ah hah.
I return to the hotel a few minutes late; the taxi driver has already arrived. He knows the old village off Chelik and takes us straight there, chatting amiably with my father in the front seat. Leaving behind the city's busy boulevards, we pass apricot groves, crumbling plaster homes, a new mosque under construction. My father tells us about visiting his grandfather here as a child, recalling the peach trees, the sheep and goats, and the silkworm hut, where the little critters ate mulberry leaves all day long, "making a sound like crunch crunch crunch." At the roadside, between tilled fields, red poppies grow in batches like bright flames, like blood.
We come to a graveyard that spans both sides of the lane to look for the grave of my great-grandfather. It's quiet, no cars, a breeze in the tall creekside grove. At the driver's suggestion, we split up and work toward each other from either end.
There are many graves grouped by family name, none of them our own. According to many headstones, the person was born in the 1300's and lived into the mid-twentieth century. I scratch my head for a minute and realize this is because the new Turkish Republic adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1925.
My father starts getting anxious, saying we should go. He speaks Turkish, losing track of which language is which. We cross the road to search the other section, and again he calls for us to leave. I ask for a few more minutes and walk gingerly around graves.
Then the driver calls out: "Look! Necip Simer!" Sure enough, there it was, a gravestone bearing the same name as my father. Inscribed with graceful Arabic calligraphy at the top, the dates and birthplace follow in modern Turkish. We gather watering cans and empty them in the weeds atop his resting place. My dad cries a little, swears he will come back one day and fix the whole place up. We take some photos and return quietly to the taxi.